Forget-Me-Not: Endangered Hydrocarbons

January 27, 2017

The 21st century is marked by our relationship to and dependence on oil. Lesley Battler’s Endangered Hydrocarbons (BookThug) is fuelled by just that as it extracts from texts generated by an oil company, and splices together with language found in video games and magazines to bring us a capitalist critique. Publisher Jay MillAr has the details behind the poetry and its greater impact, below.

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To celebrate Canada150, we’re turning the page on the most celebrated historical moments and highlighting the footnotes for a change. Take a trip down literary lane with us as we share books on aspects of Canadian history and notable people that don’t always get due attention.


Publisher Jay MillAr of BookThug shines a light on the oil-lit genre, and more specifically on Endangered Hydrocarbons:

ALU: What brought you to publish Endangered Hydrocarbons?

JM: The boring answer is that it is a manuscript that our poetry editor Phil Hall pulled out of our slush pile. It had been in our slush pile for so long that Hazel and I had moved, and the box it was in was left on our back porch all winter while we got settled. By the time Phil got his hands on it I think the manuscript had mold growing on it. But Phil picked it because of the zippy language that it contained, as well as the political focus on oil. We found out that Lesley actually worked for Big Oil in Alberta, so there was some insider thoughts going on there. We found it interesting that at her job she was thought of as a kind of "poetry unicorn" but that her creative writing had been defaced at the university at some point because people found out that she worked at Big Oil. So she was out of place in both the big oil world and in the poetry community for different reasons. What we liked about the book was how it straddled these communities to show how we are all complicit in our oil-based economy: there was a section in particular that was about the north and the impact of oil there -- environmental and societal impact, but there was also a section on the process of creative writing too, that shows how writers are also part of big oil and the capitalist system it creates.


ALU: What impact do you think this work has on Canadian culture/history? 

JM: I think that this book opens a discussion about our relationship to oil that isn't quite so cut and dry. The book was actually released at the same time as a number of other Big Oil books, the big one in particular being This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate by Naomi Klein, or even that book of poetry, The Lease by Matthew Henderson from Coach House about working in the oil fields. So it was part of a new oil-lit genre that seemed to be emerging at the time. Oil was and continues to be something that is on the table, and Endangered Hydrocarbons offers a voice as part of that discussion that we think is slightly more complicated that the others. Somehow EH seems to be further inside the issue, part of its aesthetic is as a complicit participant in what it is talking about, so rather than being a book of poems that is objective, or a big non fiction book that is part of the oil-based market it wants to expose while ignoring it's own part in said economy. For instance, I could think about the thousands of copies that were shipped form China into the US market, or I could imagine the entire population of California, which larger than the population of Canada, driving around in cars burning oil while listening to Klein's audiobook version of This Changes Everything—so even though it wants to expose the issues, it is still part of the problem. Somehow, EH offers readers an opportunity to think about how they are also involved in the oil-based capitalist system they live in, perhaps because it is poetry and so can take more risk in terms of what it wants to complicate.




Thanks to Jay for answering our questions. Remember, buy a copy of  Endangered Hydrocarbons and get a 2017 poster-calendar for free!

We hope you liked getting historical with us as we book-hopped through the centuries with #ALUneverforget picks on the  blogTwitterFacebook, and  Instagram. Don't forget to check out our history timeline showcasing still more books that tell Canadian history like it is, or should we say, was. And if you haven't been following along with us, feel free to take a look at our other fourteen Forget-Me-Not features!


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